Many of Brian Byrd’s memories of Fort Worth landmarks start or end inside the squarish, white trams of the Tandy Center Subway.
Growing up, Byrd, 50, visited the Stock Show and Rodeo and the Colonial golf tournament every year with his family and regularly went downtown for shopping and other entertainment. A favorite outing was to The Tandy Center ice rink inside a mall at the end of the subway line, which opened in 1963 as a direct link to the former Leonard’s Department Store.
The 0.7-mile subway line took Byrd to downtown. He would hop on and off the free subway from a stop on Forest Park Boulevard near the Berkeley Place neighborhood where the Byrds lived.
Occupation: Businessman, physician
Education: Bachelor’s in science, University of Texas at Austin; Medical School, UT Health San Antonio
Relevant experience: Member of Fort Worth City Council representing District 3
Family: Married to Stephanie Byrd for 26 years. They have three children: Allison, 21; Austin, 18 and Wyatt, 16
Hobbies: Cooking, playing golf
“And back in those days you could (be out and about) as a kid,” Byrd said. “Your mom would let you just go. She wasn’t worried as much.”
A lot has changed since then.
The subway line closed in 2002. The Tandy Mall, which replaced Leonard’s, was demolished in 2011. All that’s left of the major Fort Worth institution is a small museum at Carroll Street in the Cultural District.
And, during that time, Fort Worth experienced rapid growth amid changing sociocultural dynamics. Fort Worth’s population ballooned to over 900,000, U.S. Census estimates. The city became one of the fastest-growing in the country, welcoming 20,000 new people each year.
Byrd still holds dear the memories of his childhood in Fort Worth. But, he’s looking forward to leading the city to its new future.
Honoring the city’s history while managing its economic aspirations is a task Byrd took up since being elected to the Fort Worth City Council in 2017. He now wants to continue his efforts as the next mayor of the city.
“The mayor gets to be a big piece of making sure that we’re doing well,” Byrd said. “And then tying in everybody to our heritage, reminding us who we are, where we came from and what’s great about us.”
Byrd’s parents established several small businesses across the Fort Worth region, including a chocolate factory and the Culinary School of Fort Worth. They were business people with a working relationship with the Tarrant County Republican Party.
Byrd followed in his parents’ entrepreneurial footsteps. He founded Texas Family Medicine, where he still practices medicine. Another one of his ventures, Texas Hospice, grew substantially in a short period. He sold the hospice business to home health company Encompass Health in 2013 for an undisclosed sum and continued serving as an associate medical director until about four years ago.
Economic development is one of Byrd’s main priorities. Byrd touts his work on the revitalization efforts at the Lake Como and Las Vegas Trail areas in District 3, which he represents.
High crime, drug and poverty rates plague the westside neighborhoods, home to a relatively large minority population. In the Como neighborhood, 26% of families live below the poverty line and 11% of residents are unemployed. The Las Vegas Trail neighborhood has a 38% poverty rate.
Byrd cites as one of his key accomplishments his work in securing multimillion-dollar federal grants, local funding and community fundraising to revitalize the areas.
Fort Worth City Council late last year approved a $3.19 million award to the Como neighborhood for revitalization and improvements as part of the city’s neighborhood improvement program. Horne Street, the arterial route to Como’s commercial hub, is receiving a facelift through a streetscape project.
Byrd said he pushed city staff to consider Como neighborhood for the program until its final approval. The program will look at strategies to increase public safety and self-sufficiency and improve infrastructure, living standards and community engagement while promoting economic growth in Como.
After reading and witnessing harrowing accounts of people living in the Las Vegas Trail area, Byrd broached the issue in various political and civic stages. He along with several community leaders initiated a revitalization project during the councilman’s rookie year in 2017. The revitalization project transformed into LVTRise, a public-private nonprofit organization that strives to promote health, safety, housing, education and wellness in the area.
Byrd has been at the project’s helm since the beginning and continues to champion it.
The organization successfully raised funds to build a community center in a former YMCA building. A charter school also recently took shape in the area. An art center and a childcare facility among others are in the pipeline as well.
“I drew attention to it then defined the mission and brought people into the mission who carried it forward” Byrd said of the revitalization projects, which he said required teamwork and vision.
He said his experience as a business owner and policymaker could help Fort Worth’s wider entrepreneurial community and business environment.
Adding new businesses has become a pressing issue because of the city’s reliance on residential over commercial property taxes that leave many disgruntled.
While property tax remains the main source of revenue for the city, the pandemic last year made further dents to city finances.
In April of 2020, the economic challenges from COVID-19 caused the largest single-month drop in sales tax activity since the recession of late 2010s. Sales tax revenues are expected to decrease this year by 3%, according to Fort Worth’s 2021 budget.
Building back the local economy from the pandemic fallout is a major task in hand. Fort Worth needs to quickly find its economic rhythm and a business identity and focus, which it currently lacks, said Cameron Cushman, assistant vice president of innovation ecosystems at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Since trading out the cattle industry to become an oil town in the 20th century, Fort Worth has historically relied on large energy companies to pump up the city’s economy and reputation.
Now, newer technologies and changing consumer behaviors have tanked the oil and gas industry, causing steady declines in prices in recent years. The city risks losing its competitive edge and simply becoming a “bedroom community” for Dallas, Cushman said.
“Who’s going to be the next big employer here in town that’s doing something advanced, something cutting edge?” Cushman asked rhetorically. “In a world where our global economy is moving away from oil and natural gas, what does that hold for Fort Worth?”
Fort Worth’s next mayor faces the reality that the city has not replaced major corporate headquarters like the Tandy Corp. of Byrd’s youth.
More recently, the once-coveted national retailers RadioShack and Pier 1 Imports shuttered their Fort Worth headquarters. XTO Energy and its 1,200 employees also moved to Houston in 2018.
In its economic development strategic plan, updated in 2019, the city targets attracting at least one Fortune 1000 company and five Inc. 500 companies each year. However, city officials have found large companies are hard to come by.
Today, the Fortune list contains only two Fort Worth-based firms. They are longtime Fort Worth companies American Airlines (ranked 70) and Range Resources (ranked 821).
But despite Byrd’s background, many in Fort Worth’s high-profile business circle have lined up behind Mattie Parker as their choice for mayor to tackle the economic development woes.
Most of the city’s heavy-hitters suport Parker, who worked for Granger and served as Mayor Betsy Price’s chief of staff. Some names on Parker’s endorsee list include billionaire Sid Bass; Mike Moncrief, former mayor of Fort Worth; Victor Vandergriff, former Texas Transportation Commissioner; Marianne Auld, law firm Kelly Hart’s managing partner; State Rep. Craig Goldman; Les Kreis, founding member of investment firm Cowtown Angels; Bill Thornton, former CEO of Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and former council member Zim Zimmerman, who lost his district seat to Byrd in 2017.
“It’s been a tough year,” Rosie Moncrief, wife of the former mayor, remarked while endorsing Parker in a prepared statement. “While our citizens, neighborhoods and communities are rebounding, challenging days lie ahead.”
Byrd’s mayoral campaign, however, emphasizes the endorsement of Congresswoman Kay Granger, who knows all the in-and-outs of Fort Worth politics since her time as the city’s mayor in the early 90s.
Granger labels Byrd as the “most qualified and most ready to lead our city,” and adds, “he will be a great mayor and I look forward to working with him.”
In Fort Worth, Granger is trying to complete the Panther Island project, which she initiated and managed to secure federal funding more than 15 years ago. An economic development component added to the initial flood control project and other delays over the years ballooned the cost from its original $435 million to over $1.1 billion.
“If I’m elected, our city’s going to do everything that we need to do to fulfill what we’ve committed to do,” Byrd said about Panther Island. “We’re also going to do any sort of lobbying that we need to do to help out our delegation. We got to get it done.”
The Panther Island project is a key economic development project for Byrd. He said he wants to see it move forward while attracting more businesses and economic opportunities to the city.
“I’ve been successful in the business world, building multiple multimillion-dollar companies. And I’ve spent four years as an elected official. I have a record that I’m proud of and I stand on. I don’t think any other candidate in this race besides can say anything close to that,” Byrd said. “So, voters can decide if they like my record.”